Al Gore's choice of Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut as his running mate throws a number of new dynamics into the presidential race.
First, Mr. Lieberman is a seasoned public servant widely recognized for his integrity, someone prepared to be president should that be necessary. In this regard, he's comparable to his Republican counterpart, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.
Second, Lieberman will help blunt Republican attempts to tie Gore to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. He was the first Democrat to stand on the floor of the Senate and criticize the president's actions. His words were direct: "Such behavior is not just inappropriate - it is immoral."
He also showed his independence in probing the 1996 campaign abuses.
Third, Lieberman's politics are solidly centrist. His presence on the Democratic ticket will intensify the battle for the middle ground of the electorate. He tends toward fiscal conservatism and is an ardent champion of family values. For a Democrat, he's relatively hawkish on defense.
When it comes to gun control, abortion, and tax hikes, however, he's very much in his party's liberal mainstream.
Such a background will make a televised debate between Cheney and Lieberman a substantial discussion.
A final dynamic in the Lieberman choice - and the only thing that makes his selection any less politically "safe" than that of Cheney - is religion. Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew. He keeps the Jewish Sabbath and has said he won't campaign from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, though he will do other work related to serving the public during that time.
Americans haven't had much occasion to think about religion during a presidential campaign since 1960, when John Kennedy became the first Catholic to occupy the highest office. It wasn't much of a negative factor then, and it shouldn't be now. In fact, having a Jew run for such a high office may help dispel any anti-Semitic prejudice in the country.
Religious faith, tied to moral clarity and public service, should prove a strength at a time when many Americans are concerned about a slide in such values.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society